As physiotherapists and long time yoga teachers Bianca and I believe that incorrectly performed upward facing dog poses are the cause of many lower back and neck problems in yoga. We also feel that most people do not perform this quite difficult posture safely or effectively, and although when practiced properly this is a really fantastic exercise and can actually relieve back pain, only relatively few people have the necessary understanding or abilities to do.
In this short video I point out that safe and effective practice of the upward facing dog pose requires the understanding and application of the principles of at least three or four other postures.
1. Tolasana / San Tolasana (the scales or plank position): In these positions, like upward facing dog pose, the arms are used to lift the body off the ground as high as possible. Lifting the collar bones as high of the floor as possible is generally important to activate the muscles under the armpits which reciprocally relax and release many neck muscles and help to trigger a reflex activation of chest and abdominal muscles co-activation (uddiyana and mula bandhas).
2. Ardha Bhujangasana (half cobra pose): In this position, like upward facing dog pose, the arms are used to pull the chest forward towards the hands. The pulling action of the hands is meant to lengthen the front of the body without shortening the back of spine. It also has the effect of activating the back muscles (spinal extensors). Ideally the pulling action of the hands is meant to extend (bend backwards) the spine selectively at the stiffest part of the spine (which is often around the middle spine rather than the often over-stretched lower back. This movement is relatively easy to do in the half cobra pose and much harder to do in the actual upward facing dog.
3. San Calanasana (the lunge / front groin stretch): In the lunge position the muscles at the front of the groin (hip flexors) are lengthened. This lessens the strain on the lower back for several reasons that i wont go into here. The upward facing dog can be practiced like ‘double-legged lunge’ that helps to lengthen the spine rather than simply squash it.
4. Dhanurasana (the bow posture): This posture is improved significantly if you can rotate the shoulders outwards. Once the outward rotation of the shoulder is learned then this practice can be adopted for use in the upward facing dog pose (I did not mention this last point in the video shown here).
If you have any comments or questions then please share them on our facebook discussion group
Best wishes to you all, Simon Borg-Olivier
This is a short (3 minute) video is of Simon teaching alignment and mechanics of upward facing dog pose for the Vibrant Living Yoga Teacher Training Course in May 2008 in Bali. www.RadiantlyAlive.com .
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